starting your own lbgtq support group

does anyone have any advice, experience, things to avoid and other info in regards to starting a lbgtq support group? especially at least in the beginning. any concerns that would need to be addressed (safety, anonymity, or anything that does need to be prepared for/brought up, etc?

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aside from the public librbary, someone had mentioned the possiblity of the episcopal church. does anyone have any experience or feedback on this?

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Wow, I think this is kind of a tall order. Are you already certain you don't ALREADY have a Queer (assign all appropriate and/or desired initials here) Center in your area that already has one going? 'Cause if there is one, I'd recommend becoming more active with that/volunteering for that/evangelizing for that rather than going out all on your own. In my experience, places like that will also be open to you starting your own group, if there's a demonstrable/not already served community need for that sort of group and they think you can manage it.

I DO have a lot of experience with stuff like this, but those experiences involved both volunteering for and participating in that sort of already established joint. And while I don't regret (well, most of) my experiences, they were with established centerS that had non-profit status and full-time (or close to) staff. Besides being in the sort of position to get a lot of community publicity and support and thus being more able to publicize whatever they were doing or creating, those centers also had the staff and the resources to ward off the crazies that showed up. Which there were always those inevitable unfortunate few. I'm not talking "offbeat" or "different," I'm talking the occasional person who showed up and seemed like they wanted to do someone harm. That sort of crazy.

If you're determined to start your own group separate from/apart from your overall community, I'd recommend both:

1) being a HELL of a lot more specific. Is it L? Is it B? Is it T? I could be wrong here, but in most communities it's hard to get folks to show up for JUST Q. In PERSON IN REAL LIFE, that is. Unless it's a party. :)

2) Advertise locally but have some sort of screening process in mind to create a somewhat COHESIVE group. Meaning, a group that has enough in common to engender a good discussion. What do they have in common? What's the discussion topic? Why is anyone there? What's the draw? Unless you live in a VERY isolated place, I don't think just being queer is going to be enough to get folks out of their houses. You probably need some additional commonality.

3) Meet everyone in public first, or exclusively. Or at least, don't invite folks to where you live without screening them first somehow. Safety and all that.

Just my .02 cents!

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well, if there is such an organization in our county, it is very well hidden, as in no one knows about it. the closest group is loosely organized two counties over to the west and then the nearest community center is in the state capital. this area used to be quite rural ,but we have had quite the population explosion in the past five or so years, so attitudes are not quite as fertile for open harrassment like before. as far as group composition goes, i would ideally like it to be lgbtq inclusive. sorry, but i really got tired of the exclusiveness and infighting in the lgbtq community of nyc while i was there. also, there are not enough of us to really consider specificity, yet. maybe in another five or ten years, but not at present. as far as security/peacekeeping goes, i am more than qualified, plus i have a couple of 'ins' with the local sheriff's dept for extra peacekeeping. however, do you have any recommendations for csreening processes? i do not plan on hosting at home, mainly because of safety and my dog's job, besides companionship is to serve as an alarm. how does the old sign go?..never mind the dog, beware of the ownwer? what would you suggest as grounds for commonality besides a party or a twelve step program? not trying to be funny, but i am looking for your experience and wisdom if you are willing to share more of it. thank you.

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Hi again. OK, first, I'll say I have to admire you for even seriously thinking about undertaking such a project, no matter if you pull it off or not. Kudos to you for (at least) that.

Second, while I continue to be surprised there's nothing already goin' on in your area, if you say there's not, I certainly have no reason to doubt you, so . . . good luck with that, really and truly. I hope you succeed, for yourself and any other queers in your area.

Past that, let me try to explain myself, where I was coming from, and my earlier comments. This is not meant to even try to tell YOU what to do, I wouldn't want to do that overall nor do I feel qualified. But hopefully something in what I'll say will be helpful to you. Since I've been an adult, I've always lived in urban areas, several of them. I understand that you do not. I don't know to what extent my experiences would or could generalize to a very NON urban area. I would imagine there are some differences and some similarities, but I have no particular recent urban vs. rural experience to suggest or inform what those might be. Perhaps some other folks in rural/less populated areas will chime in and help out with that. So, again, let me preface what I'll say below (since I'm not going to preface every single comment) with "IN MY EXPERIENCE." Please consider that phrase a preamble to EVERY SINGLE comment below, WITHOUT EXCEPTION. 

When I suggested more specificity for your group, it wasn't coming from a place of wanting to encourage "exclusiveness or infighting," but rather, group cohesiveness, which tends to be a critical variable. In-person groups that survive and prosper in terms of attracting sufficient numbers and retaining enough of them week after week need to walk a fine line between diversity and similarity. This is both a hard thing to explain and a hard thing to finesse in terms of any particular group, but the ones I've seen survive and prosper seem to do it well, whereas the ones I've seen startup then fail didn't. Diversity is the thing that keeps a discussion interesting. Not that this is probably likely in your case, but a group that has almost everything in common has less to discuss. Diversity keeps it interesting in terms of My Experiences vs. Yours, My Opinions vs. Yours, My Overall Outlook vs. Yours, My Advice vs. Someone Else's, etc. Diversity is also what keeps a group and/or any discussion educational and lively.

However, similarity is what encourages group cohesiveness. Feeling like other people are similar to yourself is what encourages feelings of emotional "safety," thoughts that your privacy will be respected, a feeling that others in the group care about you, and that others know enough about what you're going through that they can understand you (without you having to spend HOURS on end explaining yourself, vs. just minutes). And, for many if not most humans, similarity is what causes "liking" in that we like folks we think are similar to ourselves. It's not that we NECESSARILY DISlike folks that are not similar (depending on the variable), but we DO like folks that we think are similar to ourselves on variables of importance to us.

Have I lost you? 

Maybe some examples. In one center I volunteered for, they tried to start a group, Queers Coping with Chronic Illness. That sounded specific enough, to ME, at least initially. However, while the group attracted about 10-12 people per week for the first few, very few showed up two or more times, and after several weeks it was cancelled due to lack of interest. They interviewed several of the previous participants, and many said it just wasn't cohesive enough. There was too much diversity in terms of overall age, overall dis/ability, and the illness represented. No cohesiveness, too many felt the group wasn't specific enough and/or didn't specifically address their concerns. Very few felt the group was really "for them."

Later, that same center started a group for Queers with Multiple Sclerosis. You might imagine such a group would attract FEWER members, but in fact, it attracted about 20 participants for the initial session, and increasingly more after that. That group is still active after more than a year. Apparently, the specificity of the group attracted more word-of-mouth publicity and ultimately more interest overall. "Chronic Illness" apparently didn't mean enough to that many people, but hearing about a very specific group, people told their friends and family members and those affected were just more interested in showing up to something they felt really and truly would address their specific needs and concerns.

In another situation I joined a book discussion group for queers. It was totally open-ended, any sort of book might be discussed, and anyone calling themselves queer could join. Members took turns selecting the book to be discussed. It survived for almost 3 months, but ultimately disbanded due to infighting. There was just too much disagreement about what constituted an appropriate or relevant or worthwhile book to BE discussed. Members hadn't known each other long enough to want to read something they might not otherwise have been interested in reading just because another member suggested it, and the idea of reading something they didn't want to read otherwise caused apathy and/or hostility. Some members were criticized for making "bad" selections, other members took issue with that, and the whole thing just imploded.

In yet another situation, I joined a Queer Women Read Queer Female Authors group. While that one still had its own issues, it still has been ongoing for at least 5 years. I think there is some basic respect engendered by the fact that everyone in the group and everyone under discussion is a queer female that helps glue the thing together, despite the other disagreements (philosophical or otherwise) at issue. It's not that anyone in the group feels necessary hostility toward discussing books with gay men, or anything similar toward discussing a non-"queer" book. It's just that that certain degree of similarity and/or that similarity vs. divergence of purpose (queer women vs. . . . whatever) creates enough interpersonal "glue" to hold the thing together past the inevitable interpersonal disagreements.

OK, enough of that, for now.

Screening processes? Ultimately, you probably CAN'T know what sort of person they'll be in the group, but you can at least hazard a decent guess. Basically, what you're looking for is a person that can cope with SOME degree of disagreement within your group without resorting to outright hostility, disrespect, or other forms of juvenile behavior. Disagreement is inevitable, how the person deals with it isn't.

You should also have some discussion ground rules. Actually, something along the lines of the stuff in the guidelines here, but adapt for "in person." Along those lines, you might also want to include something about interrupting. If you don't, aggressive types will steal the stage while more shy types won't find a voice. Some groups I've been in do it more formally (raising hands, passing a stick), but I don't think that's necessary. Something like waiting until someone else has finished speaking before someone else can start usually works. It's also nice to have a thing at the beginning and/or end where each member has (or is at least encouraged) to say SOMETHING.

And then, your OWN limits, which there should be SOMETHING. First, you really do need to draw SOME sort of line. You need to decide for yourself what YOUR own limits are, and YES, you should have some. Yeah, there's gray area here, I think of myself as a very respectful and experienced group participant, but I'm NOT going to try to be respectful in what I say about the W administration, nor will I worry too much about respecting those that agree with it. There's some area where you have to say, for cohesiveness, this degree or amount of disagreement is ok, past that you cross a line I won't have. Where's that for you and/or your group?

Is it really enough JUST that everyone is queer? What if some of them feel it's NOT OK to be queer (religiously, politically) but they are anyway, and they wish they weren't? Is THAT OK? What if someone thinks it's great to be queer, but also great to vote Republican? Is THAT OK? What if someone thinks they're queer, but is also thinking about joining up with one of those evangelical groups that claim to "cure" queerness? Is THAT OK?

You have to draw some sort of line for your group members, or some will feel violated. Also, the group would implode, quite possibly.

Beyond meeting in a queer-friendly public place, I'd consider talking to potential participants on the phone first. I've done phone screening before, and I think the most important thing I can offer is this: If you're talking to someone on the phone and they perceive you to be the owner/moderator/gatekeeper of a group they want to join, but they don't know you yet and/or have no personal issues with you yet, THAT IS THAT PERSON ON THEIR VERY BEST INTERPERSONAL BEHAVIOR. When you're on the phone with the person, do YOU think they're mature and/or evolved enough to handle it? If you don't, they're probably NOT. If that person seems weird or hostile or somehow "not right" on the phone during that initial interaction, whatever hostility or difficulty they seem to be displaying will only intensify once they become more comfortable. They're not going to get more polite or respectful in the group after that initial phone thing, likely, they'll become less.

Wow, I really typed like, a mini-series here. Oh well. I sincerely hope it was helpful. Comments more than welcome. 

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i really appreciate your input/experiences that you shared. after reading your comments, it sounds like i am trying to take the shotgun approach-hit as many as possible with one shot. i won't know how successful or not this is until i try it. afterwards, i can evaluate the participation and go back to the drawing board. we shall see and i will let you know what happens so that maybe you can offer more good advice.

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"lbgtq" is too many different kinds of people for one support group, too many separate issues. Even if there aren't enough people in your area for many different groups, two or three smaller groups will probably work better than one group.

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